Judge hesitantly reinstates railroad engineer after he poops on train.
According to a recent arbitration board review, train engineer Matthew Lebsack, who defecated on a knuckle connecting cars, must get his job reinstated. U.S. District Judge Brian Buescher, appointed by Republican President Donald Trump, said he “was puzzled by the arbitration board’s conclusion that termination was excessive discipline, but railway labor law does not allow him to review the board’s decision on the merits.”
Lebsack, an 18-year employee of the Union Pacific Railroad Co. defecated on a knuckle on November 20, 2016, then “threw feces-covered toilet paper out of the locomotive window and informed his manager that he had left a present for him,” according to Buescher’s opinion. The act was intentional. Using bottled water and paper towels, his colleagues clean up the mess.
The incident was investigated and Lebsack ultimately admitted to his behavior and apologized for it, showing evidence he was “suffering from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and his wife had just left him at the time of the incident.”
Lebsack was terminated by Union Pacific after an investigation ensued. The company wanted him gone for violating the Policy for Managing Agreement Professionals for Success (MAPS). He appealed and the matter, which was handed over to an arbitration board. The union that protects railroad employees is the International Association of Sheet Metal Air, Rail, and Transportation Workers-Transportation Division (also known as SMART).
The arbitration board found “termination was too harsh given Lebsack’s medical and psychological issues.” It added Lebsack “should be reinstated if he successfully completes a physical and a psychological evaluation.” Union Pacific sought to vacate the decision while SMART fought to enforce it.
Buescher said, “Under the Railway Labor Act,” he was “without authority to review the merits of the board’s interpretation of the collective bargaining agreement.” He wrote, the issue “is not whether the arbitrator or arbitrators erred in interpreting the contract; it is not whether they clearly erred in interpreting the contract; it is not whether they grossly erred in interpreting the contract; it is whether they interpreted the contract.” The judge added, “the arbitration board’s decision fell within its discretion, although the case troubled him…This court is puzzled how the arbitration board in this matter came to the conclusion that Mr. Lebsack’s actions of purposely defecating on the knuckle of his train and leaving his feces for others to clean up somehow did not constitute conduct worthy of upholding his termination.”
He continued, “As a train engineer, Mr. Lebsack operates large pieces of equipment through public spaces in our country. In his closing statement at the arbitration hearing, Mr. Lebsack’s attorney even noted that [he] ‘transports some of the most hazardous of cargo trains.’ … Upon being given such an important charge that can impact the well-being and safety of the public, Mr. Lebsack should be expected to have better judgment than that which he exhibited.”
In the judgment entered, Buescher hesitantly ordered Lebsack’s reinstatement at Union Pacific while denying SMART’s requests for backpay and attorney fees. The judge said he was siding with SMART “despite his personal opinion of this case.”